A Brief History of Bernal’s Very Best One-Stop-Shop for Ninja Equipment

You want artisanal meat? Bernal Heights has it. A fine selection of tasteful, high-quality gifts for any occasion? Got it. Equipment to supply a lethal army of martial arts warriors? Bernal has you covered.

Vicky Walker of the awesome Bernal History Project has done some research into the mysterious and fascinating Brendan Lai Martial Arts Supply Co. on Mission Street, and she brings us this report:

Not many San Francisco neighborhoods can claim to host a full-scale ninja emporium. But if you find yourself on Bernal’s northwestern edge, near the entrance to 280 at Mission and Randall, you’ll spot a storefront with a domed frontage and what looks like a movie theater awning.

Brendan Lai’s Supply Co. at 3581 Mission Street (at Appleton) has been in business in San Francisco since the early 1970s.

The business was founded by Brendan Lai, who moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong in the 1960s and rapidly gained a reputation for his mastery of the Seven Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu system. You can see him in action in this vintage demonstration footage:

Here he is in an instructional video:

Brendan Lai taught kung fu and chin-na classes at his studios on Clement and California Street, as well as in Italy, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, and Puerto Rico. He died in 2002.

Today, store manager Al Lai, son of martial arts master Brendan Lai, continues to manage the store, which moved to its current location last year. Al Lai says the family business supplies locals – “practitioners, fanatics, hipsters, and the plain curious” – as well as students and practitioners nationwide.

You can drop by anytime and test out a sword or two, ask for advice on studio referrals, or invest in some bruise medicine, posters, or uniforms. One Yelp reviewer promises, “You’ll be a kid in a kung fu candy store.”

PHOTO: Damon Styer

9 thoughts on “A Brief History of Bernal’s Very Best One-Stop-Shop for Ninja Equipment

  1. Thanks for this. I am still curious about the building, since this business relocated there just a year ago. Wasn’t there an insurance office there prior? Any further information about the building’s history?

  2. I’ve been wondering: does this Bernal subneighborhood centered along Mission, where this place, and St Mary’s Pub, and Balompie etc are, have a specific name? There’s a corner store there called New College Hill Market, but I’ve never heard the term College Hill used for that area.

    • Hi! Great question. Indeed, that zone is called College Hill, but the term is certainly anachronistic, given that there hasn’t been a college there since St. Mary’s College moved to Oakland in 1889!

      Great fodder for a future Bernalwood post, actually. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: Part II: A Brief History of the Unusual Building That Is Now Home to Bernal’s Best Ninja Equipment Shop | Bernalwood

  4. Pingback: Lama’s Kenpo Karate Returning to Cortland; Bernal Heights Ninjas Rejoice | Bernalwood

  5. Pingback: Sad News for Bernal Heights Ninjas: Brandon Lai’s Martial Arts Supply Has Closed | Bernalwood

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